Beginner’s Mind – Student Forever

It’s been an incredible 12 weeks of back-to-back teacher trainings and retreats, doing and sharing what I love so much in some of the most beautiful places in the world: Yoga… which for me is no different than life, exploring and living it to the fullest for love and freedom and beauty. Whatever specific ‘forms’ it might take, it is the path of awakening more of the potential of who we are on every level, from philosophy and evolutionary ideas, to the life force of movement and breath that is both guided and intuitive, sensing and feeling from the gross to the subtle, to deep dives into self and consciousness through meditation and sound, from traditional to experimental, from ‘spiritual’ to ‘science’. It’s all the joy of turning inwards for Self discovery, and then flipping it inside out. It’s both creative drive and surrender, dancing between form and formlessness.

One of my greatest lessons and joys is that I am forever a ‘student’ – ever learning, growing, evolving, being challenged and making mistakes, being delighted and humbled, slowly slowly learning how to navigate my way through life with more grace, ease and love. Thanks to this path that I started on really as a child – curious, seeking, confused, delighted. Wanting to be ‘better’, wanting to suffer less, wanting to ‘know’ more, not knowing what the hell I was doing but being drawn to something that felt bigger, greater, helpful, miraculous and unavoidable.

And it is with the highest gratitude that I get to share what I love and what I have discovered through my own turning inwards. That somehow the years of striving and struggling and internal analysing and ceaseless inquiry have led to something that looks like a bit more wisdom and a lot more love.

So this is a big shout out to all of my teachers – the formal and the informal, the life events that have turned me upside down, my family, friends, those who have challenged me and been challenged by me, to each person who calls themselves a ‘student’ of yoga and life and love… thank you for your gifts, insights, offerings, and the ways in which you have guided my life.

 

I’ve just arrived in south Portugal for the next 2 months to sit in satsang (to be in the company of the Truth) with Ganga Mira and Mooji. To keep turning inwards to Life.

I’m unbelievably grateful for this opportunity and time to sit with humans – real people – who have woken up and turned their lives and themselves in pure love and wisdom. Endless inspiration and the most profound guidance…

So I’m having a 3 month break from ‘teaching’ to be even more fully a ‘student’. Following the inner and outer cycles of life.

However ‘busy’ life gets, remember to take some time to turn inwards, to ‘forget’ everything you have learnt and be open, fresh and innocent – ever ready to be surprised and delighted by this miracle of life.

 

 

 

Traversing the outer and inner Self

With the beauty and power of southern France still rippling through me, I arrived in Lisbon at the end of April for a satsang intensive with Advaita master Mooji, to dance the wild inner terrain of the Self. His only interest is in liberation, freedom, awakening, and his ‘pointings’ to the direct truth of who we are, are so direct and powerful that I feel my deep yearning catalysing and all my ideas and concepts falling away. To know, first you need to ‘unknow’. My experience in the satsang intensive was so powerful that I cancelled my flight to Nepal, and as I write this, in a couple of hours I will be going to stay at Mooji’s ashram for the next week or two, followed by a silent retreat at the end of May, for a full month of immersion. I can’t say exactly what is happening, except to say that something is changing, and it is so sweet.

I am also excited to announce some upcoming offerings in Melbourne, Bali, and Thailand, including a 30hr Mantra and Nada Yoga Certificate in Bali in June, where I will get to weave in my insights, experiences and discoveries to share with you. All the details are here, if you are interested to join me somewhere.

And all of life is a continuum, an evolution, an unfolding… and although it’s a little ‘late’, I offer you some words and some images from my experiences in southern France, because it is, in fact, timeless…

In the lifetime that has been the last 2 weeks, I have climbed mountains, held all-night vigil and slept in caves, traversed gorges, wandered through the most enchanting forests, become lost and found in the weavings of a natural labyrinth, been blessed by innumerable waters in the form of sweet and salty rivers, creeks, lakes, seas, natural springs and thermal springs, waterfalls and deep pools in deeper gorges, I have spoken with a thousand trees and rocks, and listened to the songs of a thousand birds. I have been blessed by a snake, giggled with glee at flamingos, and enchanted by the patient, awkward wisdom of beetles.

I have followed that silent inner voice to mystery and synchronicity, and I have spent most of my waking and sleeping hours in the sweetest solitude, finding my place in the nature of things, and never feeling alone.

I have visited daily all these sacred places of nature and the sacred places of humans: churches, basilicas, cathedrals, chapels, abbeys, grottos, castles, towers, and initiation caves. And I have been learning the importance of weaving the greatness of each into a single thread of life-giving and life-sustaining connection.

I have been diving into the history of two thousand years, the stories and renderings of the lives and teachings of Mary Magdalene and Jesus, the Romans and the Gauls, the peaceful Cathars who were murdered as heretics by the Catholic church, the troubadours and the knights, the kings and the crusaders, the people who lived, walked, loved, built and were shaped by this land across the centuries.

In each of these places I have meditated, prayed, and sung. And I have been meditated, prayed and sung to. I have contemplated the great mystery of life, god, the sacred feminine, the profound and the mundane, the dual and the non-dual, peace and war, spirituality and religion, spirit and soul, love and forgiveness, and renewed my constant prayer for freedom, love and awakening – even though I do not even know what that is anymore. I have let go of ideas and found nothing to replace them with.

For a mostly non-coffee drinker, non-dairy eater, I have drunk countless coffees and eaten way too much cheese and croissants and loved every moment of every flavour. I have discovered the mirror-selfie and the timer-selfie, and taken one of each. I have become really good at saying, “Pardon, je ne parle pas Francais…” and people are still kind and sweet and patient.

I have been re-wilded, sweetly contented and utterly awed at every turn. I am both still and whirling with joy. But mostly I have found only that I know nothing. Which makes everything possible.

 

With love,

xo Mei Lai

 

Getting Wild

IMG_0169It started as a calling. Whether it came from within or without, I’m not sure. But it blew in like a strong wind, the foreboding of a great storm that threatens to dismantle everything, to blow to pieces everything you’ve known and carefully cultivated.

I’ve felt it before. I’ve walked out into the storm before, both willingly and unwillingly. And so this time I knew the serpentine song rising from my soul, even before it wove its magic around me. I felt the pull to the wilderness of the Unknown, to adventure, to the one true home. And I said yes.

Because I’m a total sucker for adventure. Especially one where you know that parts of you will die and there is no choice but to emerge completely transformed.

Bill Plotkin (“Soulcraft”) calls it the journey to the underworld, a descent into the dark mysteries of the individual soul.

It is the journey of initiation that we need to undertake to find our unique gift, our unique place, and our unique offering to the world that both serves the world and brings us our greatest joy.

It is not a running away, a rebellion, or a purposeful destruction of the fabric of one’s life out of despair or desolation. It is not a denial of the ‘light’, of the ultimate oneness of consciousness or ‘spirit’ from which we came from and to which we will return.

It is the acknowledgement and weaving together of the multiple threads of our existence, into beauty, magnificence and wholeness. It gives us purpose, clarity and love, and leads us more and more to taking up our own unique place in existence, in service.

A few days ago I arrived in Sweden, after three super busy glorious weeks in Bali in an IMG_0168Embodied Flow yoga teacher training with Tara Judelle. I had been invited by my dear friend Anja Bergh (Yoga Buddhi), another Embodied Flow teacher, to teach on her advanced teacher training in Gothenburg.

As the plane touched down, I got a thrill of excitement at arriving in a new place, somewhere I have never been. I remembered that it is one of my favourite things – a new land, new culture, new environment, new taste of the air and light of the sun in a different atmosphere. I was excited to have several days to explore before the teacher training would begin.

Worn out from the travel, I eyed Anja’s bookcase and announced that I might read something and have an early night. Without sparing a moment, Anja handed me ‘Soulcraft’, and that was that. Something sparked.

I woke up the next morning sick and heavy with a cold. My body unwilling to venture out into the cold and the rain, my soul as happy as a cat purring on its blanket, having all this time to dive inwards into Soulcraft, to put new words and ways of understanding to this journey I know intrinsically so well inside myself.

IMG_0170So instead of being out in the wilds of nature, I am cosied up in my friend’s house in the gentle woods of Sweden, with a book that is lighting up my inner wilderness, my own untamed and limitless self. Making the call of my soul even louder and brighter and clearer. It is exactly this, right time, right place and right circumstances. Putting context and words to the soul journey that I got thrown into at the end of last year.

In other cultures, these rites of passage are still woven into the fabric of the culture. In the West, they’ve largely been lost. There are some of us for whom the calling comes unavoidably like a freight train derailed into the centre of one’s life. And yet I believe it is there for all of us. It must be, it is our nature.

The ‘work’, I believe, lies in stripping away the layers of conditioning piled on us by society, family, and culture like dank wet blankets. Pulling out the weeds and preparing the ground for what must inevitably come, in its own way and in its own time. Kneading the self, that wily ego, so it becomes soft and vulnerable. Learning to listen with the ears of a wolf to the stirrings of the wind in the silent space of the heart. So that when the time comes (and it will), we can brazenly cry “Yes!” and trust ourselves to dive in to Life, even in the face of fear, resistance or even terror. At that time, Life will tell us which way to go. We just need to heed the call and go for it, without needing to know a single thing.

This is Yoga. Not the asanas and the pranayamas and the meditation techniques that make us feel better, stronger, healthier, more calm, more ‘spiritual’… but the heart of it – the way of life, the new ways of seeing and being, the light and the dark, the willingness to fall apart or be ripped apart, to not know, to surrender whole-heartedly to the beauty and the terror of it all.

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The tools and techniques of yoga are just the plow that prepares the soil of the soul, that break up the hard clods of the ego, that nurture the dark womb of the heart that – when the time is ripe – births love and joy. It is both the downward and the upward journey, so that we can become freedom right here and right now, home in our very centre.

I love this adventure more than anything. As I travel the wild terrain of my own soul, I know that I’ll survive with only the parts of myself intact that are worthy of living. I’m down with that. I’m willing to risk sacrificing the rest: my ego, my identity, my ideas, my concepts, constructs and comforts. I’ve done it before and risen from the ashes.

And right now, I’m in the darkness. But it is far from bleak. It is the fertile place of the Unknown. This place I love so much.

I have plane tickets, and a teaching schedule, and plans. Places I’m supposed to be and things I am meant to do. I love it and celebrate it all, and I am full of gratitude for the opportunities. But somehow I also know that none of that really matters. My practice is to let go of any ‘shoulds’ and follow the whispers of my heart and soul. Anything possible at any moment. All of it leading me to exactly where and whom I’m meant to be, a mystery unfolding moment by moment.

And what excites me most is that I know I’ll come back with treasures and hard-won jewels, wrestled from the jaws of giant pterodactyls. I don’t know what they’ll look like, but I know they’ll be my precious gifts, my offerings of beauty to myself, this world and to you.

This is my prayer for freedom. And I will walk the Unknown with love and joy and ferocity, so that I can become my own living prayer.

So that we can all live wild and whole and free.

infinity symbol

…if you’d like to come and explore some of this wild path of yoga with me, here are the opportunities.

Truth, Surrender and Bhakti

When you follow the burning desire for truth, life calls you to where you need to be.

For the last five days I’ve been drenching myself in the richness of birth place of yoga, Mother India. For many months I have been dreaming of returning to India, and specifically to spend some time in Rishikesh, one of India’s great yoga meccas. I have also been feeling the call of Mooji – an advaita zen master from Jamaica/UK, but whom I knew fairly little about. A seed of interest stirring.

But it was still far on the horizon… I had been planning to spend some time in India at the end of this year, and had been thinking about a short visit to Mooji’s ashram in Portugal in September.

mooji-rishikesh

But via a series of rapid-fire and surprising events, I booked a flight from the Philippines to India, and unexpectedly found myself exactly there: sitting

in satsang with Mooji in the heart of Rishikesh, with hundreds and hundreds of truth-seekers from all over the world gathered in silence and reverence.

Don’t ask me exactly how it happened, except to say that I found myself right where I needed to be. In the heart of truth.

It is a rare event to meet an awakened being. Even more so to meet one who so directly, simply and uncompromisingly points to the truth of who we are, in a way that pierces straight to the heart. No room for drama, stories, or for hiding. He simply lifts the veil, with clarity and love. I laughed, cried, wept tears of joy, dropped into the depths of meditation, sang, and found myself in profound silence and astonishment. I feel changed forever, and I can barely begin to articulate why.

You can watch the first satsang I attended with Mooji here (all of his satsangs are video recorded and streamed live).

It has reconfirmed for me that the spiritual path is really the path of the heart. Let the mind be, and become established in the heart. Cultivate awareness of the Self beyond the self, your pure state of being, and rest there. And as Mooji says, even the path is an illusion. You are already that.

Through this magical experience, I was reminded singing bhajans (devotional songs) with the hundreds gathered, that song, sound and voice is the most direct way I have experienced and witnessed to burst open the heart, and to allow spontaneous love and joy to pour forth. This is bhakti, the heart of devotion. I’m not sure why I continue to be surprised that the simplest things are often the most profound. But they are, and so it is.

ganga-prayerAnd so the journey continues from Rishikesh to Goa, where I have the privilege of sharing my deep love of bhakti, voice and mantra on a women’s self-care retreat with my dear sister Emily Kuser.

The universe moves in the most unexpected ways, but always in just the ways we need. Trust, listen, and surrender. These are my offerings to life. In return, I have everything I need.

“To know yourself is not a knowledge.
It is only a discovery.
It is not an achievement.
It is not a possession.
Nobody possesses Self-knowledge.
If anything, you can perhaps say it is an exchange
of the non-self for the Self,
but who will receive the Self? No one.
That is why I say it is not an exchange.
This may sound like a riddle to you,
a mystery or a paradox,
but only if you listen with just your mind.
You will understand all of this easily in the
presence, guidance and grace of a liberated being.
Seek such company.”

~ Mooji

mooji-satsang

The Greatest Gift

It’s not just that it’s the end of the year. But it’s come to the end of an era, of sorts.nature-forest-sun

I’m leaving Melbourne and hitting the road. It’s been a long time coming, but it suddenly came round sooner than expected. Life has a way of doing that, and I’m getting better at going with the flow. There are less bumps that way.

It’s a sweet flow that will first be taking me to Bali, the Philippines, Sweden, France, Nepal and back to Bali… and from there, who knows… just how I like it. A good solid adventure, cutting all the ties and flying free, to charge up my practice, my spirit, my devotion, and following the path that takes me closer and closer to love, to purposeful service and to Self. Dharma. I’m in.

So I’ve been wrapping up Melbourne life. And with that comes the end of my teaching public classes in studios where I’ve been sharing my love of yoga for years. What a journey.

It’s also been a turbulent time. Intense periods of change always are. Letting go of relationships, home, work, friends, students… all of it.

And as I walked out of class last night feeling rejuvenated, soft and clear after days and weeks of challenge, I realised again what a gift teaching yoga is. Quite possibly the greatest gift I’ve ever received.

Teaching yoga – guiding other amazing, diverse and unique humans – on a path of connection, self-discovery, and authenticity, is no small task. Let alone doing that whilst getting their bodies to move, align, breathe, explore; find the connection between body and mind, heart and breath, moment to moment; share my own insights and discoveries, and invite them into their own self-autonomy and unique experience…

Perhaps you can see why I love it. It demands all of me. It asks me, every day, to step up, to get clear, to get focused and to be authentic – no matter what is happening around me or inside of me. And it always works. It’s the gift of giving that gives back.

To create and enter a shared field of awareness and insight; to come back to the ocean of consciousness that is breath and body; to see and feel people coming home, getting centred and clear; and to know that to be in my own integrity, I have to offer all of myself, I have to do my own hard work, to cultivate my own love and clarity, to be the living example of what I choose to share. This is the gift.

So thank you. To the practice and path of yoga for demanding your way into my life. For the studios who took me in and offered me a home to share my love. To my fellow teachers who walk this path. And, especially, to every unique and beautiful human who walks into class looking for themselves, for their courage, their love, their humanity.

Greatest blessings and love for the festive seasons, let’s celebrate change, community, and all of the gifts we offer each other, just by being ourselves and doing what we do.

 

 

 

 

Devotion is a dirty word

Devotion is the last thing I ever thought I would be into. I don’t know if it was my saints-in-devotionnon-religious upbringing, the scientific mind-based culture I was born into, or my innate disbelief (from childhood) in an all-powerful male God, but for the longest time ‘devotion’ just felt like a dirty word. Mostly, I realise now, I just had no idea what it was. And I had learnt to be cynical.

As a teenager, I was deeply interested in the ‘spiritual’ – crystals, candles, seances, psychic readings, early attempts at meditation that consisted of sitting cross-legged on my bedroom floor with my eyes closed until my head fell back and I imagined that something had happened. I would spontaneously go into strange ‘moods’ (which I now recognize as altered states of consciousness), and would find socializing difficult; and when I tried to talk to people about it, they definitely thought I was weird. I participated in the first levels of reiki training when I was fourteen, and was naturally excited to test it out on those around me. One response I received from someone close was, “Don’t touch me, you freak!”

These early experiences had a huge effect on me. I stopped talking about my experiences and interests in the spiritual realms, and I became cynical of the light and sweetness inside of me. It was challenging and paradoxical: I believed in these things on the deepest level (I had experienced too many things to believe they weren’t real), and yet I was somehow also in denial. Self-protection is a powerful thing.

golden-kirtanEven when I became deeply engaged in meditation and Buddhist practices in my late teens and early twenties, learning about love, compassion, virtues, and service, a part of me was entrenched in a deep cynicism. Even as light and love were growing within me, I was too afraid to let them show – for fear of judgement. And so I judged myself, I judged those who expressed freely (“f*&%ing hippy bhajans” was my standard internal response to people singing devotional songs), and I kept my heart in lockdown.

But the beauty of dedicated spiritual practice, is that ultimately it works.

Fast forward to my early thirties… I started to open to kirtan (devotional singing) through a boyfriend who loved and shared it, and began to experience both the full force of my resistance and the radical joys of my heart. And then on a retreat in India, where the divine Geoffrey Gordon was sharing daily nada yoga and kirtan, my heart cracked. One morning, during a silent ‘listening’ meditation where Geoffrey was singing a song to the divine duo Rama and Sita, I spontaneously started singing with him, tears streaming down my face, and the words echoing in my head, “I just love God so much!” It was done. My heart was open and the light started to pour out.

kirtan-with-geoffrey-india

I’d had no idea that my heart was a heart of devotion. That I loved the divine, I loved the light, and I loved love. And that revelation and transformation would come through allowing it to pour out, fearless and unapologetic.

But as things often go with spiritual practice, we have these moments of deep insight, that often mark the beginning of an intense upheaval, and then take time to mature… So devotional singing cracked my heart open, and I found myself plunged into a period of despair. Then from touching the depths of darkness and desperately seeking a way out, I started to slowly open to love and devotion. I started praying every day. It became my mission to master love, to see with eyes of love, to live as love, to be love. I realised this was my deepest purpose, and would lead me to my greatest happiness – because then it wouldn’t matter where I was, who I was with, what I was doing – I would be in love. And so began my path of devotion.

So what actually is devotion?

Many spiritual paths ultimately offer devotion as the highest practice. In the yoga tradition, devotion is bhakti – a yearning for the divine, a deep love of God. And what is God? My personal experience of God, which connects to the non-dual teachings of yoga and tantra, is that God is consciousness itself. God is love itself. Everything in the seen and unseen world is made of this same fabric of consciousness, manifest in a divine play to experience its own nature and its own awakening. This is the yearning that stirs within us for awakening, for liberation and for love. It is the journey of the self to the Self.

So if we experience the divine as love itself, then devotion is a deep love of love, a commitment to love as the highest path. It is the path of the heart. But more than that, it is a practice of deep offering, surrender, and trust.

intention-of-loveThis is the practice of ishvara pranidhana – surrender (pranidhana) to a higher source (ishvara) – that is offered to us in two of the great texts of yoga, the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. It is a way of getting out of our own way and dissolving the personal ego that we battle with so much. It reminds us to open to life, in all its mystery, and allow grace to pour through us.

In the words of my great teachers, “Everything is conspiring for your awakening.” So when we trust in this greater force, whether we call it God, love, or the divine, we recognize ourselves as a small part in the great play of life, that is ultimately bringing us towards our own greatness. We bow down humbly, offering ourselves to the will of God, to the highest good, to love. And we listen. The practice becomes both the offering and the listening, for the voice that guides our next moves. And as we do this, we begin to experience grace and synchronicity, a deep sense of trust, and an often radical shift in perspective – even the hardships have their place, and as we willingly surrender to them in great trust, there is an ease that pours through us.

So devotion might seem like a dirty word, because it is in so many ways the unknown. And it demands that we drop down into the mysterious space of the heart and surrender the constant grasping of the analytical mind. Challenging in a world that triumphs logic and science. When we walk the path of devotion, we open to the great mystery of life. We walk the razor’s edge, because we know that we don’t know. We have to be willing to sacrifice our ego, to have our heart cracked open, to trust life and go where it asks. It’s the most daring and courageous path I know. But the gift is an ever-greater love that begins to awaken within us.

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Awakening the Voice of the Body-Soul

Durga sanskrit mandalaWhen you listen, you discover that life has a way of weaving itself into being through you. Because life is ever-creative, it is constantly revealing new gifts and insights, and inviting us to explore new paths into greater discovery and fullness.

As I return home from two months of travels and teachings in Thailand, Bali and the Philippines, I see clearly that the thread that has been distinctly woven for me this year has been awakening the voice.

I don’t simply mean the singing voice – the one that we’re told is good or bad, that sounds beautiful or like a cat howling, or in tune or out of tune. I mean the Voice of the Body-Soul. The voice that expresses the stories, the yearnings, the trials, the emotions, the ecstasy and the pain of all we experience in this human life, in this human form.

And as we get even more refined, we understand as the voice of consciousness itself. It is the power of the word, of thought, of the very vibration of life that takes us closer and closer to our essence. So we can start at the voice to travel the exquisite journey inwards, towards silence, towards our essential nature. It is one of the most powerful tools we have.

Kirtan band Mei LaiFrom a deep love of devotional singing, community and a wonderful acoustic space, I began late last year to offer free community kirtans. To my surprise, a kirtan band emerged, and growing numbers of people started coming together to sing. It felt amazing, and so I continued. I quickly discovered that people were deeply curious to use their voices more, and to work with mantra and chants. These are powerful tools to soften the mind, connect to the heart, and lead us into silence and meditation. And so I began offering workshops, exploring this yoga of sound, to which people flocked. These practices unlocked not only people’s voices, but also tears, emotions and experiences that had been repressed for far too long in a culture that says that only a small handful of people are ‘qualified’ to use their voices.

I was then invited to teach the Art of Voice and Mantra on my dear friend Emily Kuser’s High Vibe Yoga teacher training in Bali in July. I love these spaces outrageously, where there is time and freedom to explore and experiment.

Thirty students opened their voices and hearts fully to daily devotional song, so willingly High Vibe Yoga freedomand beautifully that we cried. They courageously used their voices to freely release and express the stories and pains lying hidden with the body. And then used their voices to soothe and soften. Without words, without stories, without guidelines or limitations. We discovered together the connections between the voice and the force of life, the breath; and the direct connection between the voice and consciousness, the essence of life. We sang, we laughed, we cried, we screamed, we crooned, we sighed and we discovered ourselves anew.

Through our Voice we are born and we die, we create and release, renew and discover. It is profound, simple, and astonishing. And something we all innately and uniquely have.

So I am completely and utterly in love. And dedicated to diving even further into this journey of the Voice. In early September I am flying to the US for a retreat with Sally Kempton and Silvia Nakach, for five days of mantra, voice and meditation with these shakti masters. And I am dedicated to sharing more of my own discoveries, gifts and awakenings with anyone who wishes to courageously and lovingly explore their own Voice. Because it’s one of the most incredible things I know.

When we follow the inner promptings, our own true Voice, we know exactly where to go. And what we discover along the way is bound to be astonishing.

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Upcoming workshops:

Kali: Doing the Shadow Work, Saturday August 27th 12-3pm, Gertrude Street Yoga Studio

Sound and Silence: mantra and meditation, dates to be advised soon